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Archive for August 2013

Debunking “The Superstar Theory”

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On Realgm.com, a writer Elrod Enchilada posted a well-researched, multi-part article about “The Superstar Theory”. Popular online, this theory shows the domination of superstar-led teams winning titles in the NBA’s 58 year history. The idea thus that if a team wants a title, they need a superstar, or they’re hoping for an aberration.

While the Superstar Theory looks good and has merit, I have reasons to retort it

My first argument against it, is that the champions in the 1950s and 1960s are not relevant evidence. With 8 teams in 1960 growing to 12-13 by 1968 and 1969, the probability of a team having a superstar like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit, Walt Bellamy, etc. is much higher. The ratio of superstars to teams in the 60s is similar to the ratio of all-stars to teams in modern day and that all the champions had superstars, is probably no more meaningful than every modern champion having an all-star talent. This is before considering the other time gap differences between the 50s and 60s now – such as the vastly higher pace of the games, spacing-less games because of the lack of a 3 point shot/perimeter skill and no 3 in the key rule and general strategic deficiencies. I’d argue the 50s and 60s titles should be thrown out entirely of this research. It’s a different league.

In the 70s the league expanded, which along with the ABA diluted the talent level in the league and made it easier for the best teams to dominate. Despite this, the 70s is by far the best decade for ‘ensemble’ teams in NBA history. The 1978 Washington Bullets led by Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Bob Dandridge and 1979 Seattle Supersonics led by Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma are held up as premium examples of ensemble champions. The New York Knicks in 1970 and 1973 and Boston Celtics in 1974 and 1976 are also within the ballpark of ensemble teams. While Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, John Havlicek, Dave Cowens along with the Bullets and Sonics players are stars, there is a line in the sand between those stars and others in the era like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West. The comparison would be if Gary Payton’s Supersonics won 1996, or one of Jason Kidd’s Nets/Chris Webber’s Kings won in 2002. Teams with stars, but they wouldn’t fit the model of generational stars that most other champions have had the last 34 years.

Between the smaller amount of teams, changes in the rules and style of play and success of ensemble teams in the 1970s, the Superstar Theory using seasons before 1980 isn’t necessary. And this doesn’t hurt the theory, since most like pointing out that since 1980, 33 of the 34 champions have had one of these players: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki. 33 of 34 is hard to get past, right?

To start with disputing this, I’d throw some doubt towards one of those names: Isiah Thomas. Isiah at one point of his career, fit the profile of a mega-star. From 1984 to 1987, Thomas averaged at least 20 points and 10 assists a game, finished in the top 10 in MVP voting each year and had 3 1st team All-NBA appearances, 1 2nd-team. However when the Pistons won their titles in 1989 and 1990, Isiah was neither the same player in accolades or statistics. In ’89 Isiah averaged 18.2 points, 8.3 assists, 3.7 TOVs, .528 TS%, 106 ORTG, in ’90 he averaged 18.4 points, 9.4 assists, 4.0 TOVs, .501 TS%, 104 ORTG. Neither exemplary lines. He made the all-star game both seasons, but didn’t make an All-NBA team and jarringly, finished 17th and 13th in MVP voting both years despite the Pistons winning 63 and 59 games those seasons. Being the best player on a dominant team is usually a free pass to the top 5 in MVP voting – which is how players like Jermaine O’Neal, Peja Stojakovic, and Chauncey Billups have finished top 5 in MVP voting in seasons the last decade. In either statistics or accolades, there’s little reason to believe the Pistons are less of an ensemble team by 1989 and 1990 than the 2004 Pistons, or 1979 Supersonics and 1978 Bullets. A team with stars, but not a superstar like the rest of those 33.

Adding those 2 title teams, makes the odds a little more fair. That makes 3 of the last 34 as ensemble teams. Or if one takes a more favorable selection by counting 78 to 04, that’s a healthy 5 in 27 years.

However, that’s not the only reason to doubt the 80s and 90s as evidence. An important distinction is looking at exactly what built the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls dynasties in the 80s and 90s, combining for 14 titles in 19 seasons between 1980 and 1998. After the Jazz signed Gail Goodrich in 1976, they were forced to give the Lakers a future unprotected pick as free agent compensation. That’s how the Lakers had the #1 overall pick in 1979 to take Magic Johnson, despite having a good 47 W, 2nd round team built around Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the previous season. In 1980 the Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien began a binge of trading future 1sts, to the point where the league had to create a rule named after Stepien to prevent trading consecutive 1sts. One of those picks went to the Lakers, which in 1982 ended up #1 overall, allowing the Lakers to take James Worthy. In 1979 the Celtics traded Bob McAdoo to the Pistons for an unprotected future 1st, which allowed the Celtics to pick #1 overall in 1980 despite winning over 60 Gs Larry Bird’s rookie season. They infamously dealt this #1 pick to the Warriors for #3 (Kevin McHale) and Robert Parish. In 1987 the Bulls’ average season gave them the 10th overall pick, but they also had 8th, Denver’s draft pick, which the Knicks had originally acquired and then dealt to the Bulls. The Bulls took Horace Grant 10th, then moved from 8 to 5th to draft Scottie Pippen.

Obviously in modern day, teams with superstars like Kareem, Magic and Bird having the #1 overall pick, is almost impossible to replicate as a strategy. Teams value draft picks for more, draft picks are protected and free agent compensation is defunct. How the Bulls got the 8th pick is more replicable, but it’s likely either Denver or New York protects that pick in modern day.

Another major difference is the CBA. The introduction of the rookie salary scale and max contracts, among other differences, changed the strategical environment for NBA teams. The last 15-20 years is also when the league stylistically started to resemble modern conditions.

While an argument can be made for allowing the Magic, Bird and Jordan era into the equation, between antiquated way those teams were built and the growth of modern strategy and CBA, I see it more reasonable to use the 15 seasons after the Jordan era as the real comparison for the environment teams have to build a champion now.

Now, the Superstar Theory still holds up OK the last 15 seasons. 14 of the last 15 champions have had Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki, true all-time greats. The main retort against this is sample size. 15 years, or even 30 years, is well within reach of what could be a hot streak for superstars, not a true trend. While it’s not totally fair to compare it to 15-30 ABs for an MLB player or 15-30 FGAs for an NBA player, that’s an example of a statistical selection that’s not reflective of a player’s ability.

Furthermore, the last 15 years have had a number of extremely close calls for ensemble teams. Consider the 2000 Blazers, who had an all-time collapse against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, preventing an ensemble Blazers-Pacers finals. The 2002 Kings had a heartbreaking loss to the Lakers and were the victim of an acknowledged crooked game a la the Tim Donaghy scandal. It could be argued that Webber or Kidd qualify for a star led title team, but like some teams in the 70s, there’s a line in the sand between them and a Shaq or Lebron. The 2005 Pistons’ bid to repeat ended in G7 of the Finals against the Spurs. The 2010 Celtics had a 3-2 series lead and were up in the 3rd quarter of Game 7 of the Finals and lost to the Lakers. Of course, we just saw the 2013 Spurs lost after the trophy was rolled out in Game 6 for them. Even if 2 or 3 of those 5 teams had won the title, there’d be 3 or 4 ‘ensemble’ teams in 15 seasons since the Jordan era ended. That works out to a 1 in 3.75-4 chance, far friendlier than 1 in 15. While superstar teams would still have an advantage, that’s a healthy enough ratio that we wouldn’t be talking about how hopeless it is for teams without a superstar. One can make the argument that superstars are responsible for why 2 or 3 of those close calls teams didn’t win, but the point is that there’s reasonable doubt. It’s not that it’s a guarantee that of the next 15 titles, 3 or 4 will be ensemble teams, to dispute the “Superstar Theory” only requires a chance. Since it was within reason for 3 or 4 out of the last 15 titles to have gone to ensemble teams, it’s within reason for 3 or 4 the next 15 too. On the outskirts, it’s within reason 6 or 7 do, even if unlikely. This is especially true considering the league is always changing. The CBA is intended to increase parity, with the NFL as a desired model. The development of advanced metrics teams is changing the environment of the league. In NBA history previous generation’s versions of the Memphis Grizzlies fell short at the hands of superstar teams, but John Hollinger’s response to that may be that those teams didn’t have a strategy resembling his, or perhaps they’d have broken through.

There’s no question that the game is tilted towards superstars and the best players winning titles. However, the conclusion that it’s hopeless for everyone else, is founded on a stretch the last 15 years of superstar teams dominating, when it may have been simply bad luck for ensemble teams more than anything else. When considering this and that the league is consistently moving in new directions that will favor different types of franchises, I don’t find The Superstar Theory to be conclusive evidence.

Written by jr.

August 27, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Basketball

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Another idea to remodel the MLB: A mid-season trophy

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Last month I posted this change to the MLB schedule, operating under the framework that a 162 G schedule hurts the stakes of games too much.

Now I have an idea I like even more!

There’s a reason one can’t just cut the 162 G schedule in half. Financially it’s worth it to teams to dilute the product for twice the games and it’d wreck statistical records like home runs or wins for pitchers.

If cutting the season in half isn’t an option, what about two seasons half as long? Say the first three months, they play an 80 game-ish long “season”. There is no playoffs at the end, instead it’s old school rules – First place teams in the AL and NL play each other. Instead of the World Series, they’re playing for another trophy – let’s call it the Jackie Robinson trophy for now. The series would have to be short because other teams’ pitchers can’t be sitting for too long. A 5 G series, a 3 G series or even a 1 G winner takes all, would work.

After the Jackie Robinson trophy game, the slate is wiped clean and everyone starts back at 0 W-0 L. They then play another 80 or so games, before their records are seeded into the divisional and wild card October playoff format we know now, leading to a World Series winner.

The plan would be for the Jackie Robinson trophy to be the Golden Globes to the World Series’ Oscars, or the Eurocup to its World Cup – the 2nd most important trophy, but still a big deal to win and still cool.

The benefits of this plan:

– First, it achieves the objective of putting 1/80th of the season level stakes into games, instead of 1/162. The second half of the season in particular as the teams race to October playoff seedings, would be exciting.

– It gives a reprieve to teams in the second half of the season. In the current system, more than half the league are out of the playoff picture and playing meaningless games in the second half. This system gives them another shot. Teams who disappointed out of the gates like the Blue Jays and Royals this season, would get another kick at the can.

– At the same time, it adds a level of meritocracy. A criticism can be made of the MLB playoffs, that the World Series team doesn’t have to be the best team, they can just be the most hot. With the regular season AL and NL leaders playing for the Jackie Robinson trophy, there’s a reward for a team playing the best in the regular season. A truly great team also has the opportunity to prove it by winning both the Jackie Robinson trophy and the World Series in the same season.

– Financially, the series for the Jackie Robinson trophy is ratings winner and a gates winner for the teams involved. It also makes games with the AL and NL pennants on the line leading up to it, more important and talking heads worthy. It’s a fun and fan-friendly idea.

I would love this change for the MLB! It seems overwhelmingly a positive change.

Written by jr.

August 24, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Why I prefer Julius Randle to Andrew Wiggins as the best 2014 NBA draft prospect

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Andrew Wiggins is considered a near unbeatable frontrunner for the #1 pick in the 2014 draft. Some even rate him as a generational prospect and the best since Kevin Durant and Greg Oden.

I prefer Julius Randle, widely considered his most serious challenger for the spot.

Wiggins’ reputation is built athletic prowess. While Wiggins is a very good to great athlete at worst, I’m not as over the moon about his athleticism as most, as I’ve written here and here. Where Wiggins is impressing people most, is his ability to leap incredibly high when dunking, off 2 feet when having time to prepare himself. I presume some use dunking explosiveness as a barometer of athleticism.

It may be for raw, human athleticism in a vacuum. But the NBA requires specific athletic skills more than others. In the NBA it’s crucial for a perimeter player to have an explosive first step, allowing him to penetrate the defense and create offense at the rim. When it comes to leaping, it may help one finish at the rim – but other features like strength, touch, instincts play a role in how well a player finishes. Furthermore, it’s arguably more important to leap quickly and to be explosive off 1 foot, to catch the defense off balance, than it is to jump higher than everyone with time to prepare. That maximum leap may find value in aiding rebounding and shotblocking for Wiggins, but to be a superstar, he’ll need dominant offense.

The player Wiggins reminds me most of athletically based on games available filmed for television, is Paul George. George is a very good athlete, but his speed isn’t blazing fast, unlike some transcendent athletes like Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. When adding to just average ballhandling, George is not a dynamic slasher. Another reason I favor the George comparison is his feel for the game and fluidity may be one of the league’s best, which also appears to be Wiggins’ most unique strength. George however has proven to be a good shooter in the NBA to key his offense, while Wiggins is unproven in the area – scarily only hitting 61% of his FTs his senior season. George is also bigger and longer than Wiggins, helping him defensively. If my reading of Wiggins’ slashing talent and feel for the game are correct, I’d need to see him become one of the best shooters at the SF position, to indeed be a perennial all-star. Otherwise what I’m confident in his defense. He has the athleticism, length and feel for the game, to be a standout defender, like George is. Due to questions about his slashing and shooting, I’m wary of predicting more than average offense for Wiggins – For now.

Julius Randle has an advantage in a few ways to me. For one, of the two he is the player I see as having that dynamic, rare first step for his position. Combined with impressive ballhandling for a PF, Randle looks to be a nightmare attacking the basket off the dribble. His great strength, should also help him finish at the rim. Randle in fact, arguably resembles Lebron James in his combination of speed and strength for his height, though clearly less talented in non-physical elements of the game and more likely to be a pure PF.
In addition to this, Randle’s skill for his position currently projects more encouragingly for me. At SG or SF where Wiggins will play, anything less than 3 pt range, which is in play for Wiggins, is below average shooting skill and is a cause of both inefficiency and spacing issues for offenses. But at PF, having shooting range that goes to 20 feet out, but not three, is above average shooting and spacing for the position. For example Andre Iguodala’s shooting is a liability for a SF, while Chris Bosh’s shooting at PF is an advantage, despite Iguodala having equal if not better shooting range in a vacuum than Bosh. Randle is known as a player who can hit midrange jumpshots and a FT% over 70% in high school, is encouraging for his age. In addition to potentially shooting it well for a PF, Randle’s brute strength gives him potential as a skilled post player. Wiggins may also develop a post game, but arguably needs to develop his frame more than Randle does – plus it’s generally less common for wing players to go to the post as a regular weapon. In addition to shooting and slashing, Randle’s feel for the game, fluidity and craftiness also appears to be well above average for a power forward, if not competitive with Wiggins’.

When combined, Randle’s offensive tools stand out more to me right now than Wiggins’. I see more from Randle as a slasher for his position than Wiggins and his skill level compared to his position, looks more encouraging. At best he could be both unstoppable attacking the basket for a PF, but also with shooting range and a crafty feel. The best comparison for Randle lately for me is Blake Griffin, another ultra athletic power forward of about the same size, with a great feel for the game. However what holds Blake back is developing that great mid-range shooting game that Bosh and Kevin Garnett had. While it’s no guarantee, with his much better FT shooting, it’s certainly in play for Randle to end up with that range Blake lacks. If he tops out, his brute strength could also give him more of a true post game Blake doesn’t have. I would  rate Randle’s offensive upside as higher than Blake’s.

Like Griffin, Randle is a bigger question mark on the defensive end than Wiggins, as he’s not as big for his position and is unlikely to be a shotblocker, though with his athleticism, strength and feel, respectability seems plausible on that end.

For Wiggins to surpass Randle for me by draft day, I’d need to either be proven wrong about his slashing, or I’d need to see him become a more skilled shooter and skill weapon for a SF than Randle is for a PF. That’s conceivable enough, as certainly it’s early enough in the process that the book on these prospects could change rapidly. But at least with the information I have and trust right now, I prefer Randle as the most talented 2014 draft prospect and the prospect with the best chance at being a superstar.

Written by jr.

August 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm

An ‘anti-tanking’ idea for the day

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I’m not the most fervent protester of NBA teams tanking for high draft picks, but it’s a subject matter appear to be passionate about. Teams losing on purpose and an incentive for it rubs fans the wrong way. Steve Kerr wrote a nice article on NBA.com suggesting some ideas.

How about if a team wins a lottery spot, they’re ineligible to get one the following season? As it stands now, after the top 3 lottery slots are picked, the rest of the draft is ordered by record. Therefore the team who is ineligible for the lottery, if the worst team in the league would be guaranteed the 4th pick, the 2nd worst team could be 4th or 5th, etc. according to the odds on this page if the top 3 for each placing is discounted.

Why would this change tanking? First, without the carrot of a top 3 pick, the teams who are ineligible would have less incentive to tank unless they’re desperate for a 4th or 5th pick. Now a retort to this is that it may make other teams more likely to tank, if their odds increase. However I would argue the ineligible teams’ odds should be evenly distributed between all the eligible lottery teams. Since everyone’s odds increase the same, there wouldn’t be more incentive to tank by the other teams.

Another change is that tanking becomes a pick your poison situation. Take the example of the 2013 draft’s prospects having much less hype than the 2014 high school class. Now if teams tanked for a top 3 pick in 2013, they’d cost themselves any chance at picking top 3 in 2014. For the teams who believed in the 2014 draft, this would be a huge cost to them, to the point where they may go out of their way to play better to avoid losing their top 3 lottery ticket in 2014.

This rule also discourages “multi-year” tanking. Teams like the present day 76ers and Magic, or in recent years the Bobcats or Kings, have gone out of their way to be terrible multiple years in a row. With losing lottery eligibility every 2nd year, this becomes a less desirable plan.

Now, rules regarding traded picks would have to be clarified. I would argue that whoever owns the pick on lottery day, is the one who is penalized the following year if they win a lottery spot. Thus a team trading a pick before the lottery, aren’t in danger of losing the following year’s lottery chances, only the one who trades for it.

While the above works as a rule change, I’d slightly prefer this version: Instead of the team winning a top 3 lottery spot becoming eligible to be top 3, they become ineligible for a top 5 spot, meaning their highest possible pick is 6th the following year. This makes the incentive to tank for ineligible teams even smaller – and the ‘cost’ of winning a lottery spot in any year, even steeper.

I feel this accomplishes much of what you want in an anti-tanking idea. It lowers the incentive to tank but the bad teams are still more likely to get high draft picks, particularly #1.

Written by jr.

August 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

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Looking at the Bobcats’ coming improvement in 2013-2014

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The Bobcats have become the league’s punching back the last few years, with the all-time bad 7-59 season after the lockout followed by a still dreadful 21-61 last season. Over the last 3 seasons they’ve managed to put together a group of young prospects like Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, but they are widely expected to be bad again, even after signing Al Jefferson to a huge contract.

I feel the Bobcats could make a large leap next year. Here’s why:

First, the Bobcats continued their long offensive incompetence by finishing 28th in the league with a 101.5 ORTG. Of the Bobcats’ roughly 8708 possessions (using FGA + .44*FTA + TOV), here is the distribution between the players:

 

Players over league average 105.9 ORTG (using Dean Oliver’s individual ORTG):

Gerald Henderson 1101 poss (12.64%) – 107 ORTG

Ramon Sessions 933 poss (10.71%) – 109 ORTG

Jeffrey Taylor 492 poss (5.65%) – 107 ORTG

Josh McRoberts 158 poss (1.81%) – 113 ORTG

 

Players under league average ORTG, but over the Bobcats’ 101.5 ORTG:

Kemba Walker 1607 poss (18.45%) – 105 ORTG

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 765 poss (8.78%) – 102 ORTG

Jeff Adrien 244 poss (2.80%) – 105 ORTG

Reggie Williams 160 poss (1.84%) – 102 ORTG

 

Players under the Bobcats’ 101.5 ORTG:

Ben Gordon 952 poss (10.93%) – 96 ORTG

Byron Mullens 681 poss (7.82%) – 94 ORTG

Bismack Biyombo 490 poss (5.63%) – 98 ORTG

Brendan Haywood 295 poss (3.39%) – 95 ORTG

Hakim Warrick 230 poss (2.64%) – 94 ORTG

Jannero Pargo 174 poss (2.0%) – 96 ORTG

Tyrus Thomas 167 poss (1.92%) – 88 ORTG

Desagana Diop 35 poss (0.42%) – 74 ORTG

Cory Higgins 20 poss (0.23%) – 90 ORTG

It’s easy to see what an offensive disaster the Bobcats frontcourt was. Mullens, Biyombo, Haywood, Warrick, Thomas and Diop combined for just under 22% of the possessions at a disastrous efficiency.

Al Jefferson used about 1436 possessions at 109 ORTG last year, above league average and way above the Bobcats’ average last year. Furthermore McRoberts who was added late last season, had great efficiency in a small sample size. Cody Zeller was one of the most efficient players in the NCAA last year, making it reasonable to expect at least average ORTG next year. The Bobcats also signed Anthony Tolliver who had a 102 ORTG last year on 274 possessions. Overall, the Bobcats should replace many inefficient possessions in the frontcourt with average or better ones. Bismack Biyombo will likely still be in the rotation among inefficient players, but is young and could hypothetically improve.

Other than the bigs, Ben Gordon’s combination of volume and inefficiency also killed the Bobcats. It’s unclear how much Gordon will play this year, but the Bobcats would be wise to sit him down and replace his minutes with Jeffrey Taylor, who’s both more productive on both ends and a young player worth developing. The Bobcats are also not done filling their roster and could sign more wing depth to take Gordon’s minutes.

Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist improving their slightly below average efficiency is also plausible, if they improve their shooting and general experience.

Overall, a lot is pointing towards the Bobcats offense getting a lot better this year, if not jumping all the way to league average.

What about defense? The Bobcats finished a dreadful 30th in DRTG last year. Certainly Al Jefferson is not known as a defensive ace and nor should rookie Cody Zeller or Josh McRoberts. However, it’s hard to expect they’d get any worse defensively in the frontcourt, with both their 30th DRTG and Byron Mullens taking so many minutes up front last year. Biyombo has the physical tools to be a good defender, thus if he doesn’t start making an impact on that end this season to compliment Jefferson, he may as well pack his bags for another league early.

More important defensively is the perimeter. Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have great athleticism and motors, which should presumably lead to them to pressuring the other team defensively. Jeffrey Taylor also has defensive potential due to his positional intelligence. The Bobcats perimeter is built to be their defensive core and hypothetically, are a great defensive fit beside Jefferson and Zeller up front. Defense is also an area where making Gordon a DNP player or buying him out would help. It’s also possible that Mike Dunlap was out of his element as a coach in the NBA and is responsible for their dreadful defense last year, while Steve Clifford could provide an improvement. As a whole, amount of perimeter athletes the Bobcats have drafted lately could pan out on the defensive end this season. They may not be a great defensive team, but production closer to average next year shouldn’t be a shock.

Simply replacing all the inefficient offensive players with average players on that end, could be enough to push the Bobcats towards 30 wins. When adding in the potential for players like Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist and Biyombo taking their careers to another level, or a dramatic turnaround in team defense, the Bobcats could really make a rapid turnaround. My guess is that the Bobcats are closer to the 10th pick in the draft than 1st next year and that they have a puncher’s chance at challenging the playoffs. The most favorable comparison for the Bobcats would be the 2009-2010 Grizzlies, who improved to 40-42 after 24-58 the season before and a string of losing seasons before that. That Grizzlies improvement was spurned on by the addition of Zach Randolph and development of players like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Jr. improving the offense, while Lionel Hollins’ system and internal development lead to a defensive improvement. The Grizzlies didn’t make the playoffs that year, but they surprised by becoming respectable, foreshadowing great success in following seasons.

Written by jr.

August 13, 2013 at 11:39 am

Why I’m no fan of the Greg Oden signing for the Heat

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Greg Oden wallpaper

Greg Oden wallpaper (Photo credit: A Stern Warning)

Miami won the take a flier on Greg Oden sweepstakes – and at a cheap, minimum salary price considering his demand from other teams.

The move has been favorably received. Why not right? Best case scenario Miami becomes unbeatable, worst case it’s just an end of the bench roster spot burned.

I’m not as enthused.

Because James Jones, Rashard Lewis and Joel Anthony are on guaranteed deals next season, if they’re not waived that’s already 3 roster spots to players the Heat shouldn’t want to play. Thus the opportunity cost of Oden’s roster spot, is likely a player nearing on, if not in the rotation. Norris Cole, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem are also not stellar options in the rotation and can be replaced by the right signing. If the Heat signed a big like Chris Wilcox, Ivan or Anthony Tolliver or a perimeter player like Daniel Gibson, Beno Udrih, Delonte West, Mike James, Daequon Cook, Ronnie Brewer, it would not be a surprise if they were in the rotation in the playoffs, before even accounting for the possibility of an injury bringing them into play.

The Heat still have 2 roster spots open after Oden to sign players like the above, such as to replace Mike Miller’s shooting and live body on the wing – but it’s clear that Oden taking a roster spot, means a free agent is left out.

It may not seem like a world changing difference for Chris Wilcox to be called on in a playoff game instead of Joel Anthony, or for Daniel Gibson to replace Norris Cole’s minutes if more productive, but what if it is? The Heat needed every point against the Spurs to defend their title. A few possessions the Heat’s last three wins in the Finals going the other way would’ve changed the result. And the 9th and 10th players in a rotation can make that small difference.

As for his health, it’s a clear longshot. He has to go from a player whose health has prevented a GP in nearly 4 years, to his health staying at least afloat for the next 9 or 10 months until the end of the 2014 playoffs. Whether he can play in November or January is irrelevant to the Heat, only if he’s healthy at the end. There’s a chance Oden is there in the playoffs, but it’s a hail mary throw with a much greater chance of being batted down. In the Heat’s position there was nothing wrong with a 3 yard shovel pass instead.

A problem for the Heat is that becoming a lot better next year may not be worth more than becoming a little better, if in both cases it leads to the title. But becoming a little worse could mean everything if it costs them the title. So is taking the risk of becoming a little worse for the chance to be a lot better, really worth it for the Heat? It would be for the Dallas Mavericks, for whom the upside of Oden could bridge the gap to contention. But for the Heat it may be jumping at a massive upside they don’t even need. You don’t get a bigger trophy for easily winning the title than narrowly winning it.

Oden is a more fun and exciting signing than a player like Chris Wilcox or Ivan Johnson, but I’d side against it being the smart signing. But I’m cheering for Oden to make this post look foolish.

Written by jr.

August 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Why the Memphis Grizzlies could be the 1st seed in the West in 2013-2014

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Marc Gasol | Memphis Grizzlies

Marc Gasol | Memphis Grizzlies (Photo credit: Basketball Schedule)

The Memphis Grizzlies won 56 games year, with a point differential of a 54 win team – including a 23-8 run after the Rudy Gay trade, an over 60 win pace over a full season.

While that post all-star break is over a small sample size, advanced stats at the time supported that taking away Rudy Gay’s awful efficiency and simply redistributing his shots to both Tayshaun Prince/Ed Davis and the rest of the team, could improve them. And they indeed played better.

Last year the Grizzlies ranked second in DRTG (100.3) but only 17th in ORTG (104.9). For the Grizzlies to challenge 60 Ws and the top seed in the West, an offensive improvement to potentially top 10 in the league, would be needed.

Here’s one way to look at it. Using FGA + 0.44*FTA + TOV, the Grizzlies used roughly 8591 total “possessions” last year. Here’s those possessions distributed by player according to whether they were more efficient or less efficient than the Grizzlies’ 104.9 ORTG using Dean Oliver’s individual ORTG, including in parenthesis how big a percentage they took of the team’s possessions:

More efficient:

Zach Randolph (106 ORTG): 1306 poss (15.2%)

Mike Conley, Jr. (111 ORTG): 1253 poss  (14.6%)

Marc Gasol (115 ORTG): 1165 poss  (13.5%)

Quincy Pondexter (114 ORTG): 374 poss (4.4%)

Wayne Ellington (107 ORTG): 230 poss (2.7%)

Ed Davis (113 ORTG) 190 poss  (2.2%)

Jon Leuer (124 ORTG)  30 poss  (0.3%)

Keyon Dooling (117 ORTG): 29 poss (0.3%)

Chris Johnson (111 ORTG) 29 poss (0.3%)

Less efficient:

Rudy Gay (97 ORTG): 861 poss (10.0%)

Tony Allen (102 ORTG): 814 poss (9.5%)

Jerryd Bayless (104 ORTG): 795 poss (9.3%)

Darrell Arthur (99 ORTG): 422 poss (4.9%)

Tayshaun Prince (100 ORTG): 387 poss (4.5%)

Mareese Speights (101 ORTG): 311 poss (3.6%)

Austin Daye (104 ORTG): 134 poss (1.6%)

Tony Wroten (91 ORTG): 128 poss (1.5%)

Hamed Haddidi (85 ORTG): 26 poss (0.3%)

Josh Selby (70 ORTG): 34 poss (0.4%)

Dexter Pittman (48 ORTG): 8 poss (0.1%)

A fairly even split between efficient and inefficient players, makes it unsurprising that the Grizzlies finished an average 17th in ORTG last season.

The above numbers paint an encouraging picture for the Grizzlies offense however. Rudy Gay’s possessions were used so inefficiently that redistributing them to the rest of the team should help, especially if Pondexter and Mike Miller (271 poss, 117 ORTG last season in Miami) are taking more of his minutes than the inefficient Prince. But the big difference may be in the frontcourt. Instead of Arthur and Speights, the Grizzlies have both more Ed Davis who is an efficient player – and they snagged Kosta Koufos from Denver, who put up a stellar 122 ORTG on 607 possessions in Denver last season, making him one of the most efficient players in the league. Under normal circumstances I would point out Zach Randolph heading into his 13th season makes him a prime candidate to decline this year, however aside from Randolph both putting up mediocre statistics the last two seasons anyways, by trading for Davis the Grizzlies have positioned themselves to have a soft landing when Zbo goes downhill. Davis is the more efficient scorer, but Randolph takes a higher volume of shots and takes pressure off teammates. While in upcoming years finding a way to replace his volume is a problem, Zbo is still likely to be a high usage player this year, thus even if his minutes and possession slightly decline the impact may not be felt on teammates. Having both these Davis and Koufos the bench and losing Gay’s possessions, while potentially getting mor efficient wing production from Pondexter and Miller, could make a big difference to the Grizzlies’ offense.

The question in addition to that is, will their defense also stay at elite levels? Since the Grizzlies played better defensively after the Gay trade with Prince and Pondexter providing similar length and help defense acumen, it should seem their defensive results will continue. Koufos should also help their defense, as a better combination of size and intelligence than what they had backing up Gasol last year. Davis’ athleticism also gives him defensive upside.

I’d argue the Grizzlies are poised for an elite season. They were within a stone’s throw of the top seed in the West last year anyways, then filled weaknesses. On a role-level, a backup center and shooting on the wings were two holes and they did a good job filling both. On a statistical level, they should have less inefficient possession users and more efficient ones, if not super efficient, on both the perimeter and the frontcourt. The Grizzlies are a team with both stars and depth. One can make the case that still competent Tayshaun Prince and Mike Miller are the 9th and 10th most valuable players on the team after Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter. Sometimes a key to being great in the NBA or in other sports, is filling an entire team with players who are at least average and avoiding having any bad, squeaky wheels on the roster. The Grizzlies are a great example of a team where everyone in the rotation is at least average.

Right now I am leaning towards predicting Memphis for the 1st seed in the West, based on the scary aging of the Spurs and the Thunder losing Kevin Martin. This could be their year, at least in the regular season.

Written by jr.

August 6, 2013 at 9:04 pm

On Brandon Jennings’ surprisingly reasonable, John Wall’s unsurprisingly egregious and Jeff Teague’s dully expected contracts

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Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer, three starting point guards in John Wall, Brandon Jennings and Jeff Teague received post rookie deal contracts, Wall’s an extension a year early for 5 years, 80 million and Jennings and Teague through restricted free agency for 3 years 24 million and 4 years, 32 million respectively. I thought comparing their careers and salaries was relevant.

Brandon Jennings has had the feel of a destined to be overpaid player for years, but by the end, his flaws were apparent enough to “only” get that 8 million a year salary in the Detroit S&T for Brandon Knight. Has the pendulum of hate swung too far for Jennings?

Jennings had an alarming .399 FG% last year, but this isn’t reflective of his efficiency. When taking into account his 3 point shooting, a .510 TS% is more respectable, if below average. Dean Oliver’s Individual ORTG, perhaps my choice for the most important stat of all – has Jennings at a league average 106 the last two seasons. In comparison Jeff Teague who the Bucks tried to sign, also had an 106 ORTG last year. John Wall, who I will get to later, had 105. Jrue Holiday who went for a huge trade price to New Orleans, had a paltry 99 ORTG. Knight who Detroit dealt for Jennings, had only an ORTG of 98. Jennings’ efficiency looks respectable in ORTG because of a surprisingly low turnover rate (2.5/game) for amount of the shots (15.6 FGA, 3.5 FTA/game) and assists (6.5/game) he records. There is value in a player who uses many possessions at an average rate. Someone has to take those possessions and some players are more efficient if they don’t have to take a huge role. For example on Milwaukee last year, the players more efficient than Jennings were Ersan Ilyasova (114), Mike Dunleavy (111), Larry Sanders (109), Ekpe Udoh (109), J.J. Redick (109), Samuel Dalembert (108), all of whom rely on finishing shots at 3 or the rim players like Jennings help create for them off the dribble. The other reason average efficiency can have value, is that the Bucks had a better than average team defense at 105.2 DRTG. Thus even if Jennings efficiency wasn’t above league average, it was better than the teams the Bucks were playing, arguably thus contributing to wins. Among other all-in one stats, Jennings’ 5.8 WS and 4.1 WP are above average and comparable to Jeff Teague’s 6.1 WS and 5.2 WP.

One can make the case that a more fair price for Jennings and Teague is a slightly above league average 6 million a year, not 8. However, Jennings and Teague are getting paid for potential to get better in addition to current production. The best case scenario for both players is Mike Conley, Jr., who’s 5 year 45 million contract at the time of the signing was overpriced compared to his production, but his improvement has now made the deal look more than worth it. George Hill is another PG who received a contract in line with Jennings and Teague on a per year basis at 5 years 40 million, who’s gone from seemingly overpaid at the time, to a bargain if anything. If Jennings and Teague can lock down a starting place for Detroit and Atlanta along those lines, their teams will be happy. If not, the contracts are not as egregious or long enough to be killers. Neither contract is a home run, but if both teams are trying to follow the lead of the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers in constructing their teams, it may do.

John Wall’s contract at 16 million per year over 5 seasons, is harder to stomach. Has Wall been any better than Jennings and Teague in his career? As mentioned, he was slightly less efficient than them last year – and that was a spike upward from his first two seasons. Wall uses more possessions than Jennings and Teague at 20.9 FGA + 0.44*FTA + TOV, to Jennings’ 19.6 and Teague’s 16.3, but as he hasn’t proven to be better than average at using them, it’s debatable how much value there is in that extra volume. Wall is by far the best at getting to the rim and free throw line, but also easily the worst outside shooter of the three. All three are mediocre at best scorers right now, but when added to above average passing ability, it’s enough for average production as a starter.

Most of where Wall getting paid twice as much comes from, is he’s deemed to have star potential that Jennings and Teague lack. Wall was an undisputed #1 pick and #1 high school recruit and is one of the most physically gifted point guards of all time, with a perfect combination of athleticism and size. But many mistakes in the NBA have been made ignoring how much of innate talent exists outside the realm of physical talents. It’d be a fair argument to say Jennings and Teague’s superior shooting results throughout their careers, comes from having better shooting talent. It’s true that Wall can improve his outside shooting from this point, however so can Jennings and Teague. Jennings hit 37.5% of his 3s and Teague 35.9%, to Wall’s 26.7%. While Wall’s improvement at his best case scenario may make him a 3 point shooter in the mid 30 %s, the best case scenario for Jennings and Teague’s shooting is that they break the 40% mark. In other words, Wall can improve from awful 3 point shooting to average, but Jennings and Teague plausibly can make as relevant an improvement from good 3 point shooting, to great/elite. That’s not to mention that in midrange shooting as well, it’s as plausible Jennings and Teague become league leaders at the position, as it is Wall becomes respectable.

The other part of talent that’s relevant of course, is between the ears – the instincts and feel and mental affinity for the game. One worrying sign for John Wall is he can play the game “too fast”, a player who drives to the rim and has little fluid sense of where he is in relation to teammates. In fact, Wall was the subject of the best example I’ve seen yet, of  someone in the NBA discussing feel for the game. Most would probably say Jeff Teague has a greater control and sense of “pace” to his game. It’s harder to convince someone that Jennings has a more natural feel to his game than Wall because of the poor shots he puts up, but I personally see the craftier and more controlled player, something he may learn to grow into as he becomes a grizzled veteran.

In other words, while Wall is undoubtedly by far the greater physical specimen, you can argue pound for pound, Jennings and Teague are more talented at playing and seeing the game, leading to similar production 3-4 years into their career.

There are reasons why the Wizards gave a maximum extension to John Wall. They didn’t want the risk of him taking the qualifying offer next season hanging over their heads and perhaps it was a relationship move with them. It looks like they assumed Wall getting a maximum contract next summer was inevitable – and it may have been. And on one hand, if the Wizards had a change of management or heart, Wall’s contract is unlikely to hold them down. Due to his pedigree he’ll be tradable for years. Rudy Gay had worst-case scenario production after his max deal and Memphis had no problem trading him, even getting a good prospect in Ed Davis for him. With even more pedigree than Gay, Wall likewise just about can’t play bad enough to not have trade demand.

The problem for the Wizards and this contract is in two ways. One is that by giving Wall a max a year early, they put themselves at a major health liability. Wall sat out half of last season with a knee injury and the Wizards have had a horrible history with players and health recently, whether it’s related to flaws in their medical staff or luck. The difference between Wall’s health going in a terrible direction after his extension and if they had waited for his RFA, is obviously enormous – enough alone to make the extension a bad idea.

The second major issue is simply that if indeed Wall ends up only a league average or slightly better player (worth 6 to 8 million), even if he remains a trade asset on a max deal, they’d be in a position win more games if not having that contract. Average PGs like Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions can be found easily enough and are close enough in production to 2012-2013 Wall, that simply starting them and then spending 10 mil+ on other players, is in my opinion likely to lead to a better team. It goes against conventional wisdom to think the Wizards franchise could have a better chance making the playoffs in 2014-2015 after trading John Wall and starting Ramon Sessions instead, but if they spent the freed up finances well, that may very well be the case.

As long as he stays healthy, John Wall’s contract won’t kill the Wizards because of its tradability. What’s more likely to kill the Wizards, is if Wall remains average and they hold onto the contract for years. At the moment what can said about it, is that it’s enormously above what his production so far in his career has been – and that on top of it, was committed a year earlier than it needed to be. With those two facts, it’s hard to do anything but pan it.

Written by jr.

August 2, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Why I don’t like the Andre Iguodala move for the Warriors

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Andre Iguodala

Andre Iguodala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Warriors swooped in at the last minute to sign Andre Iguodala to a 4 year, 48 million contract, one of the summer’s biggest free agent fishes. To do so of course, they used 2 1sts, 3 2nds and Brandon Rush to trade Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins’ contracts to Utah in what ended up a 3 way S&T with Denver.

The more I think over this move, the more awful it looks for the Warriors.

My first concern is that the Warriors essentially paid a tax for a cash advance. Jefferson and Biedrins were set to expire next summer, giving the Warriors tons of capspace. The Warriors essentially said “We want to spend that capspace a year early” – and paying the 2 1sts, 3 2nds and Rush, was the tax for immediacy.

Do the Warriors need to be paying for immediacy? Stephen Curry’s youth gives them a long window of relevance, while Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are years from their prime. While a team like the Timberwolves are desperate to end a playoff drought and appease the fans, the Warriors magical 2nd round season last year, should’ve given them a grace period to take a step back next season. The Warriors fans have supported far, far worse. Patience was a luxury the Warriors had. There was nothing wrong with barely holding onto a playoff spot next year, then using capspace and draft picks next summer, to try and best 2012-2013.

The motive for improving in 2013-2014, is if it gave them a chance at the championship next year. But with San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, Memphis and Los Angeles Clippers potentially all challenging 55 wins or more next season, the Warriors may a longshot to even finish higher than their 6th seed this season. In fact it may be as likely that they fall back to 7th or 8th due to a team like Dallas or Minnesota, then move up. It does not appear that the Warriors are a true title contender. If the Warriors believe this move can make them a 2013-2014 Finals or title contender, it is a deep, hail mary throw that’s likely to be batted down.

One of the reasons why, is that they didn’t add Iguodala to the team who ended last season. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry’s expected departure, counteracts part of the value of adding Iguodala. Iguodala should improve the Warriors defensively, but he is worse than either Jack or Landry are offensively, let alone both of them combined. They are more efficient scorers than Iguodala and Iguodala’s lack of spacing on the wing, may hurt the Warriors offense. I would argue the impact of the Iguodala acquisition is it prevents the Warriors from taking a big step back next season, not that it moves them upwards in the Western ranks. And is that worth the price they paid to Utah?

A counter to the “cash advance” criticism of the Iguodala trade, may be that the advanced-metrics heavy Warriors management really, REALLY wanted him, to the point of figuring if they let the opportunity to sign him now pass, as good of one wouldn’t be there when the capspace came in 2014. But this is dangerous. Iguodala is a good player, but how good? They spent 12 million a year on him. For them to feel “Iguodala is so good that we have to get him now”, it would imply that the 12 million spent next summer wouldn’t match up to him in value, or that essentially, Iguodala for 12 million a year is a must have bargain. Even for the most advanced-metrics heavy teams, is Iguodala with his offensive flaws, really the caliber of player that 12 million a year is a bargain? He would have to be a maximum caliber player if not and then some, for that to be true.

Especially considering my other major concern with signing Iguodala, is that he’s 30 next January. The history of free agents getting paid huge to produce in their 30s, is dicey. Iguodala also relies on athleticism far more than skill, meaning he may be a player who ages less than gracefully. When a somewhat comparable SF in Gerald Wallace was traded from Charlotte to Portland in 2011, he was 5 months younger than Iguodala is now. Wallace played like a star his first half season in Portland, slipped a bit but maintained a above average caliber of play in 2011-2012 split between Portland and Brooklyn, then totally fell apart in 2012-2013. Scarily, Iguodala has actually played more total minutes in the NBA than Gerald Wallace – not the Wallace at the time of the 2011 trade, but Wallace as of today, 2 and a half years later. Iguodala is not necessarily Wallace – he’s arguably a more cerebral player and has a closer to respectable jumpshot, but Iguodala is a major risk to decline at some point during this contract. He’ll turn 32 halfway through his 3rd season and 33 halfway through his 4th. Iguodala may be a contract where the value is in the 1st or 2nd year of his contract, while living with the last few years are a price paid for that value provided early. This isn’t a huge problem, but it further disputes the idea of Iguodala on this contract being such a valuable get that they had to pay the steep cash advance-tax just to sign him now.

The Warriors having 12.3 million of capspace to spend in the summer of 2014, would’ve given them a fair chance of replicating Iguodala’s production in 2014-2015, whatever it ends up being. Or if there’s any difference, certainly not one worth the cost of losing 2 1sts, 3 2nds and Brandon Rush. Thus you have a case where the return on investment of the package they sent to Utah, is almost solely in improving their team in 2013-2014. Unless the Warriors seriously surprise by becoming a contender next season, I just don’t see how supercharging next season, is at all worth it for them.

There are times when sacrificing long term assets for wins in the short term makes sense – such as arguably what Brooklyn did this summer, arguably giving them a real chance at the NBA title. But at least by my reading of their roster qulity, I don’t see next season as the right year for Golden State to sacrifice their assets for. In a few years losing that cap and asset flexibility to do so just so they could further guarantee themselves a playoff knockout season this year, could hurt them and be regrettable. To use a poker analogy cliche, the Warriors pushed a lot of chips in the pot while holding a decent, but not great hand. If they folded their cards this season, they may have left themselves more chips to bet on better hands. A key to NBA success is knowing what seasons to spend your chips on and what seasons to be conservative. The assets the Warriors spent now could’ve been saved for a more realistic title window when their young players hit their late 20s. While the season remains to be played and Iguodala has his fans, I don’t like this move for the Warriors whatsoever.

Written by jr.

August 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm